What the act of coming closer of the two countries has in store for Pakistan?
By Hussain H. Zaidi
It has become customary for the West to woo India for reasons chiefly economic and partly political. First, it was the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who during his visit to India in August this year declared that he wanted to make his country the "partner of choice" for New Delhi. And now Barack Obama, the President of the globe’s sole superpower, not only termed India-US relationship one of this century’s ‘defining partnerships’ but also declared his country’s support to India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Given the familiar Pakistan-India antagonism, it is difficult to avoid flattering New Delhi without at the same time castigating Islamabad. Though Obama was more discreet than Mr Cameron in reproaching Pakistan, he did express his dissatisfaction with the pace of Islamabad’s fight against terrorism. More importantly, he did not criticize New Delhi for the human right situation in Kashmir and reiterated Washington’s position that Pakistan and India needed to sort out their problems bilaterally and that his country would mediate only if both parties consented to that. This is another way of ruling out any American mediation, because India does not want it.
Indo-US relations have come a long way from the suspicion of the Cold War days to the present strategic partnership. This is evident from the fact that out of five presidential visits from the US to India since 1947, when the latter got independence, three have been made during last one decade. In fact, all the three last American presidents, including the incumbent made it a point to visit India — a tribute to New Delhi’s growing international stature and its increasing importance for Washington.
It was President Bush who accepted India as a nuclear power when he sealed a nuclear cooperation deal with that country in 2008. And now Mr Obama wants to build on that relationship. No wonder, his three-day India trip was his longest visit to any country since taking over as American president.
The visit took place at a time when the world’s largest economy is struggling to come out of economic slump and is facing double-digit unemployment. In 2009, the US economy contracted by 2.6 percent and is projected to register a modest growth of 2.6 percent this year and 2.3 per cent next year (IMF’s World Economic Outlook October 2010).
By contrast, India is booming: the economy grew by 5.7 percent in 2009 and is projected to expand by 9.7 percent and 8.4 percent this year and next year respectively. Like a full purse, a rapidly growing economy is never short of friends, who want to cash on its trade and investment potential.
Hence, not surprisingly, the avowed purpose of Mr Obama’s visit to India, like that of Mr Cameron a few months back, was to seek opportunities for his country’s businesses and create jobs to help revive the economy. During the visit the two sides struck trade deals worth $10 billion that are likely to create 50,000 jobs.
Already, India-US economic and commercial relations are growing. Merchandise trade between the two countries has approached $46 billion, including $24.48 billion exports from the USA and $21.40 billion exports from India. In addition, the two countries have $22 billion trade in services. For India, the USA is a major trading partner accounting for 12 percent of the country’s global exports and 8 percent of its global imports.
Though US exports to India have nearly doubled during the last five years, India’s share in America’s global exports is only 1.8 percent, while America’s share in India’s global imports is about 7.5 percent. Given India’s strong economic growth, its status as the world’s second largest market, and liberalization of the economy, the US would like to push up its exports to India and take a larger pie of the Indian market.
Hence, before his visit to India, Obama had underlined the need for greater access to Indian market to boost America’s global exports as a means to create jobs and contain its huge current account deficit. In the USA, the economy plays a greater role than any other factor in shaping politics and Obama, who just before embarking on the Indian trip had suffered substantial losses in mid-term elections, knows that his re-election heavily depends on the economic performance of his administration.
The growing Indo-US ties reflect the present era of economic diplomacy in which a country’s position in the comity of nations is primarily determined by its economic and commercial strength and by and large economics takes precedence over politics in shaping inter-state relations. Hence, developing and sustaining a sound economy and securing and protecting economic interests abroad are the priority of governments’ internal and external policies respectively.
This explains why there is so much emphasis on forming blocs and concluding agreements for economic integration and promoting trade and investment.
Indo-US relations have a political dimension as well. The US wants to preserve the existing uni-polar global order based on the philosophy of liberalism, whose political expression is democracy and economic manifestation is free market economy.
The US realises that although it is the lone superpower, it cannot control world affairs independently. It needs regional partners or allies, particularly those believing in economic and political liberalism to control the world.
India is well-suited to play that role as acknowledged by Mr Obama himself in his address to Indian parliament when he said, "As the world’s two largest democracies, as large and growing free market economies, as diverse multi-ethnic societies with strong traditions of pluralism and tolerance, we have not only an opportunity, but also a responsibility to lead."
The US also claims Pakistan to be its strategic partner. However, the dynamics of Pak-America relations are fundamentally different from Indo-America’s. While the US interest in Islamabad consists mainly in the war on terror and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, New Delhi has a much larger role to play in Washington’s scheme of things as borne out by Obama’s quoted words.
That Pakistan cannot receive the same treatment from America as India does is hardly surprising as the two countries are on different scales economically and politically.